Rajesh Tandon’s professional career in the development sector started as an active intervener in the processes of social change in rural areas of India. Working with villagers on educational training demonstrated the power of new learning opportunities in the hands of those who have otherwise been denied such access. Tandon questioned the methodology of an objective, scientific system in transforming social realities and began experimenting with the idea of a bottom-up acquisitive system, thereby discovering a new faith.
Even 15 years ago, the work of positioning an alternative view of knowledge, research, and inquiry was rejected by the academic enterprise within India and the region. Tandon’s work was labeled as unscientific, and some wondered if it served only to further political ideology. Others would look at it merely as a development tool. Top-down knowledge production was to be used for bottom-up participatory processes, he was told.
But Tandon persisted with promoting the idea of bottom-up knowledge and learning as the basis for social transformation. Learning, he believed, was an integral component of organizing and capacity building. Tandon founded the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) as a vehicle to strengthen learning opportunities at the grassroots level and to articulate knowledge for wider social influence. He developed participatory training, monitoring, and evaluation methodologies supported by and to enhance adult learning and community knowledge.
Today, knowledge for social transformation, learning, and participation as tools of empowerment and development is common vocabulary among grassroots groups, practitioners, academic institutions, government agencies, and international donor organizations.
Knowledge for change became not only a professional pursuit but a way of life when Tandon set up PRIA, of which he is currently the president. As its founder-leader, Tandon has been personally involved in field-level education initiatives of women, tribals, youth, elected representatives, and adult voters, resulting in: 1) strengthening local governance capacities and causes through capacity building (PRIA and partners have oriented 100,000 representatives, 14,000 youth and 50,000 women at all levels of governance [rural and urban] covering 50,000 gram panchayats; 2) educating more than 100 million voters to use their voting rights in a pre-election voter awareness campaign; 3) promoting public awareness (across 10,000 CSOs) on the issue of child education and right to education; and 4) orienting nearly 12,000 elected officials for effective delivery of basic education.
Tandon serves as chairperson of the Global Alliance on Community-Engaged Research (GACER) network, which facilitates the sharing of knowledge and information worldwide to further community-based research. He presented the GACER policy brief, “Higher Education, Community Engagement and the World We Want,” at the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education in Paris in July 2009. He is also chairperson, board of directors, FIM-Forum for Democratic Global Governance, since 1998.
Tandon has also been chair of the external advisory committee at the Office of Community Based Research at the University of Victoria in Canada (2006); chair of the International Forum on Capacity Building of Southern NGOs (1998-2002); president of the Asian-South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education in New Delhi (1991-2000); and vice president of the International Council for Adult Education in Canada (1986-1994).
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